Whether one feeds wildlife thinking animals need help finding food, or does so wanting to get closer to nature, it can lead to problems down the road for the birds and mammals.
On the West Shore, despite having more rural and wooded areas than Greater Victoria’s core municipalities, the issues are not so different, says Kari Marks, manager of the B.C. SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Metchosin.
“With smaller animals like racoons and squirrels, they do become habituated (to food sources),” she said.
When scavenging animals eat scraps from human food, whether left out intentionally or accessed through poorly sealed garbage cans, they can become used to eating such foods, Marks said.
“If the mom is feeding in urban areas, where cars and dogs are, they can get killed and the babies come to us,” she said.
Bird feeders, while hung up with the best of intentions, can also cause more problems than they solve, Marks said.
“It’s an easy road for the animals to eat those sort of things. But it leads, one, to habituation, and two, to inappropriate diet. It may be fun to feed those animals in spring and summer, but come winter, when they don’t have those things, starvation can set in.”
If you do have a feeder up, leave it up and maintain it, she said.
Where mammals taken into the Wild ARC’s care are most often orphaned or injured, the birds it sees can be sick or have weak bones from eating improper food, or be dying from disease contracted through eating from bird feeders.
“When it comes to feeding songbirds, people don’t clean their feeders enough,” Marks said. “Illnesses such as salmonella are infectious and they can be transferred through the food left behind (by sick birds) in feeders.”
Buying seasonal seeds from a knowledgable bird feed or nature store can help keep birds healthy, she said. As for keeping your feeder free of disease, Marks suggested emptying it out and cleaning it with a mild solution of bleach (10 per cent) at least once a week.
Feeding bread crumbs to ducks, geese, gulls and other waterfowl is another bad idea, she said. Since bread contains ingredients the birds are not accustomed to and are not natural to their diet, it has a negative impact on such aspects as the growth of feathers.
“They end up not being formed properly, and if they get that type of food when they’re young and developing, flight becomes a problem.”
Deer on the West Shore don’t seem to be as much of a problem as they are in town, specifically Oak Bay, Marks said. With more wooded areas to hide, they tend to have safer places to go and there is enough bush to maintain a natural diet.
While cougars have been spotted in West Shore urban areas this year – one was shot by a conservation officer in June – the presence of deer in the area, their natural food source, means they will likely have enough food to eat.
Bears can sometimes be a problem when they get accustomed to feeding on garbage, but so far this year none have been reported in urban areas on the West Shore.
In general, wild animals’ instincts lead them to find natural food sources without our help, Marks said.
“So often all the conflicts that we cause are because of good intentions,” she said, adding a final bit of advice. “Respect wildlife. Keep them wild and they will know what to do.”